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Republican mayoral candidates Matt Hullander, Sabrena Smedley and Weston Wamp participate in the 2022 Hamilton County mayoral debate April 11.

As voters prepare to go to the polls Tuesday for the Hamilton County primary elections, a new survey shows attorney Coty Wamp with a strong lead in her bid to oust Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston, and her older brother Weston Wamp is holding a narrow lead in the hotly contested three-person GOP contest to succeed Jim Coppinger as county mayor.

Among 298 likely Republican primary voters sampled Wednesday through Friday by Spry Strategies of Knoxville for the conservative civic group Hamilton Flourishing, Weston Wamp had a lead in the county mayoral contest over his two rivals.

Wamp was favored by 34.3% of the respondents, while Hamilton County Commission Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley was supported by 25.7% and businessman Matt Hullander was backed by 24.9% of those sampled.

With 15.1% of the voters still saying they were undecided and a margin of error in the poll of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, there doesn't yet appear to be a clear favorite in the Republican mayoral election.

"This race has really tightened up over the last two weeks with Matt Hullander holding a steady lead, to Sabrena Smedley rising, and now Weston Wamp has taken a slight lead over the last few days," Spry Strategies President Ryan Burrell said in a telephone interview Saturday. "Ultimately this is a tight race, will be decided by a few points, and all three candidates are in the game heading into Tuesday."

While the GOP primary election battle remains close in the most hotly contested and expensive campaign ever for the top job in Hamilton County government, the other contested GOP countywide race — for district attorney — appears more one-sided, with polls showing Coty Wamp enjoying a better than 2-to-1 advantage over Pinkston, who is seeking his second eight-year term as the county's chief prosecutor.

The Spry Strategies survey showed Coty Wamp, a former public defender, prosecutor and counsel for the Sheriff's Office, supported by 55.1% of GOP survey respondents, compared with 23.8% who said they are voting for Pinkston.

Pinkston was unopposed in the Republican primary when he last ran in 2014, but he has come under criticism and a state comptroller's finding that he violated state nepotism rules by hiring his wife and brother-in-law for jobs in his office.

Coty Wamp — who is the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and the brother of Weston Wamp, who twice previously ran for Congress — is making her first bid for public office.

The winner of the GOP district attorney's race will face Democrat John Allen Brooks, a former one-term Hamilton County commissioner, in the August general election.

Hamilton County mayor’s race

If the May 3 Republican primary election for mayor were held today, and the candidates were Matt Hullander, Sabrena Smedley and Weston Wamp for whom would you vote?

Weston Wamp - 34.3%

Sabrina Smedley - 25.7%

Matt Hullander - 24.9%

Undecided - 15.1%

Source: Spry Research poll conducted for Hamilton Flourishing. Survey of 298 randomly-selected likely Republican primary voters conducted by a hybrid method survey conducted by landline and online from April 27 to April 29.

 

The winner of the GOP mayoral contest will face Matt Adams, a contracted paralegal who moved to Chattanooga last year after leaving active duty in the U.S. Army. Two independent candidates, David Tulis and Richard Ford, also will appear on the Aug. 4 general election ballot for county mayor.

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Neal Pinkston looks on as Coty Wamp speaks during a district attorney debate Jan. 18.

The Spry Strategies survey found most voters in Hamilton County call themselves Republicans and are either strongly or somewhat conservative, so the GOP primary contests Tuesday could be key to deciding several countywide races.

In the early voting in Hamilton County so far, 81% of the ballots cast have been in the Republican primary.

The Spry Strategies survey found that 70.4% of respondents said they either strongly or somewhat approve of the job Donald Trump did as president.

Asked what issue was most important in their support of a candidate, 26.9% of voters said character, 19.1% said experience, 15% said jobs and economic growth, 11.7% said public education, 6.5% said taxes and 4.7% said infrastructure.

Hullander, former owner of construction company Hullco and the son of Hamilton County Trustee Bill Hullander, has stressed his business experience and pledged not to raise taxes as mayor. In a statement earlier, he denounced Wamp's supporters for telling "lies" in mailings sent out criticizing Hullander's business record and Smedley's support of "the liberal teachers union."

"Clearly, Weston Wamp has decided to attack us because he is way behind and running out of time," Hullander said last week. "The Wamps will continue to go negative because that's what they do."

But Weston Wamp said he believes his focus on education and specific plans are helping him gain support.

"I worked the polls all week and I could just feel the momentum gaining," he said Saturday in a phone interview.

Hamilton County District Attorney’s race

If the May 3 Republican primary election for district attorney were held today, and the candidates were Neal Pinkston and Coty Wamp, who would you vote for?

Coty Wamp - 55.1%

Neal Pinkston - 23.8%

Undecided: 21.1%

Source: Spry Research poll conducted for Hamilton Flourishing. Survey of 298 randomly-selected likely Republican primary voters conducted by a hybrid method survey conducted by landline and online from April 27 to April 29.

Wamp said he welcomes support from everyone, although he distanced himself from critical mailings of his opponents sent out by some of his backers organized as Chattanoogans for Responsible Government.

"My campaign is staying positive, and I have said I don't think this type of mailing is that effective," he said, stressing that independent political action groups are separate from his campaign.

Smedley said she hopes voters dismiss what she said are inaccurate claims in the mailings, noting that she is a fiscal conservative who has voted against tax increases and gained the support of both police unions. She noted that the group paying for the critical campaign mailings is headed by the business partner of Wamp's campaign treasurer and is himself a long-time supporter of Wamp.

"I hope people see through these false attacks," Smedley said in a phone interview Saturday. "I think we've got the momentum and I'm very optimistic."

Smedley has repeatedly criticized her rivals for the political careers of their fathers, saying they are good old boys, riding on their fathers' coattails. She has emphasized that her name doesn't open doors for her.

An earlier survey in mid-April of 350 Republican voters conducted by Knoxville pollster Adam Beauchamp of Energy Media showed Hullander leading at that time with 34.2% support, compared to 32% for Smedley and 22.3% for Wamp.

Burrell said the race appears to be tightening, with Wamp gaining more support of late.

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Pollster's report: Hamilton County mayor, Republican primary survey

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"There's no question that Sabrena and Matt are splitting the right of center, conservative and super-conservative voters," Burrell said. "If the moderate Republicans, independents, light Dems and even a small percentage of minorities turn out, then Weston Wamp has a shot to win. If turnout continues to be low and limited to Republican super-voters, then Matt or Sabrena win it."

The race for the Republican mayoral primary is the most expensive campaign ever for the office with more than $1.2 million spent so far by the three GOP candidates. According to financial filings submitted to the Hamilton County Election Commission through April 26, Hullander had raised $537,227, Smedley $436,005 and Wamp $361,446.

Despite the record-high spending for the GOP county race, the three candidates still haven't yet spent as much in their primary campaigns as what Tim Kelly and Kim White collectively spent last year in their races for the non-partisan Chattanooga mayor's race. Kelly won.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.

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Go deeper: Read the crosstabs for results by gender, party and more

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